Communication is Key

It’s been two months since my last blog — what gives?

I could give the excuse that I’ve been busy taking a short course on Isotopes in Spatial Ecology and Biogeochemistry at the University of Utah, and analyzing data from lab work I did at the University of Hawaii, which is true, but really, there is no excuse.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in studying, field work, data crunching, writing papers, going to conferences, networking, teaching, etc., etc., but there are important reasons why I, and in my opinion all scientists, should make time to communicate with a wider audience.

Recently I’ve read some great articles about communicating science, mostly to keep myself motivated to make the time to do so through blogging and tweeting.  I’ve decided to share some of the take-home messages of why I share my research, and the research of my peers, with you.

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and fiction writer (he is also the scientific advisor for the television drama, Perception, which is pretty cool), recently wrote an article about why public dissemination of science matters.  In short, his message to scientists goes as follows:

1. Thank your funders   [shout out to my SciFund supporters!]

2. Inspire critical thinking

3. Stem the flow of bad information  (perfect example: It’s not about the Mermaids: Animal Planet’s track record of fabricated reality)

4. Inform public policy

5. Clarify what science is and is not

6. Share the raw beauty of scientific pursuit  (e.g., Scientists with Stories)

I would add to this list: Make science (more) fun and relevant!

I am fortunate that I love my job and am excited about my work every day.  But what makes my job even better is that so many people, young and old, all around me love my job, too.  Not necessarily my day-to-day work tasks (reading and writing journal articles, collecting data, and sometimes, lots of math…), but they are genuinely intrigued by science, in particular marine science, and moreover sea turtles and other marine creatures.  So when I share my work and the work of my peers, the overwhelming positive responses of passion, curiosity, and wonder injects purpose and fun into my daily work.  It reminds me why my research matters, well beyond publishing scientific papers that only other scientists (if I’m lucky), and maybe (hopefully!) policy makers, will read.

But that’s not all.  A recent Scientific American article by Maria Konnikova points out that writing pieces (like this blog post) for public consumption actually helps me do my job better because I’m practicing expeditious interdisciplinary research, and concise, comprehensive, and consistent writing, outside of what can be a cumbersome and narrowly-focused academic research and writing process.  As such, she suggests that graduate schools should require students to blog (warning: her blog post is quite long).  Or at least encourage students to communicate in academically unconventional ways, and outside of their disciplines.

In sum, thank you for reading, for your support, and for making me a better scientist.  I’ll do my best to share interesting research with you, like this sea lion that has learned how to bob his head to a beat.  Underwater sea lion dance party?  I wouldn’t be surprised.

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